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Syst Biol. 2015 Nov;64(6):926-35. doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syv050. Epub 2015 Aug 27.

Inferring Speciation Processes from Patterns of Natural Variation in Microbial Genomes.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.
Department of Microbiology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA


Microbial species concepts have long been the focus of contentious debate, fueled by technological limitations to the genetic resolution of species, by the daunting task of investigating phenotypic variation among individual microscopic organisms, and by a lack of understanding of gene flow in reproductively asexual organisms that are prone to promiscuous horizontal gene transfer. Population genomics, the emerging approach of analyzing the complete genomes of a multitude of closely related organisms, is poised to overcome these limitations by providing a window into patterns of genome variation revealing the evolutionary processes through which species diverge. This new approach is more than just an extension of previous multilocus sequencing technologies, in that it provides a comprehensive view of interacting evolutionary processes. Here we argue that the application of population genomic tools in a rigorous population genetic framework will help to identify the processes of microbial speciation and ultimately lead to a general species concept based on the unique biology and ecology of microorganisms.


Barriers to gene flow; differentiation; recombination; selection

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